Safe Schools program still under attack

In late February, following pressure from Senator Cory Bernardi and a number of Coalition MPs, Prime Minister Turnbull launched an investigation into the Safe Schools program, which was seen as being used to indoctrinate children.

Spearheaded by the Safe Schools Coalition Australia, the national taxpayer-funded program provides an opt-in service to Australian schools, to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) children. As well as helping LGBTI children gain confidence, the program also offers “skills, practical ideas and greater confidence” to teachers and parents to create inclusive environments and prevent bullying of vulnerable students.

Until recently, the scheme, which receives $8 million per annum of federal funding and is being run at almost 500 schools across Australia, had the Coalition’s backing. Now, a number of Coalition backbenchers, including Cory Bernardi, George Christensen and former prime minister Tony Abbott, have criticised its work. 

Mr Bernardi, who put the initial pressure on Prime Minister Turnbull to investigate the competency of the program, called it a “disgrace”. He made the bold statement that it “bullies heterosexual children into submission to the gay agenda”.

The Safe Schools program was launched in 2010 under Tony Abbott’s government. However, Mr Abbott has become the latest politician to criticise its work, saying, “It’s not an anti-bullying program, it’s a social engineering program…Its funding should be terminated.”

Despite a number of children and parents reporting positive outcomes from the program, the Australian Christian Lobby has expressed concerns that the program is more damaging than helpful, claiming that it “imposes a sexual agenda on children” by raising inappropriate issues for teenagers and young children.

On Q&A on Monday night, director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton called into dispute the “sexualised content” of the program, and its message to children that gender was not “uniform”.

“A lot of parents would be rightly concerned about this, that this goes way beyond an anti-bullying program,” he said. Mr Shelton was also against the program giving children information about performing “chest binding” and “penis tucking”, labelling it “radical action which they [the children] would later regret”.

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Opinion: Giving kids the support they need

With data revealing that the majority of LGBTI young people experience some form of abuse from their peers, the need for a program like Safe Schools is undeniable – not just to support LGBTI kids, but to teach straight and cisgender (those who identify with their biological sex) children how to be tolerant.

Research into homophobia from the Bully Zero Australia Foundation found that:

  • 61 per cent of same sex attracted or gender diverse young people in Australia have experienced verbal abuse.
  • 18 per cent of same sex attracted or gender diverse young people in Australia have experienced physical abuse.
  • 80 per cent of these homophobic and transphobic incidents take place in schools. 

Despite Australia seeing itself as a tolerant nation, many race, gender and sexual prejudices persist. The Safe Schools program should not be seen as a threat to our society or our children, but a means by which we can become more inclusive and progressive. 

Considering that schools can choose whether to opt-in to the program and choose which services to include, I see no reason why it should be cut. Additionally, parents who take umbrage to particular content can always have their child omitted from the program (to the child’s educational detriment, in my opinion). Why should some children, who could gain so much benefit from the program, be denied such a great experience?

While conservative individuals and organisations may see the education provided by the Safe Schools Coalition as some kind of threat to children’s innocence, I see their reds-under-the-bed style of fearmongering over the program as a threat to our ongoing progress to create a more empathetic society.

What’s your stance on this issue? Do you think the program is a good thing to have in our schools or is it teaching inappropriate content? Do you think it’s possible to eliminate bullying from our schools via a program such as Safe Schools?

Why not find out more about what the Safe Schools program does?

Written by ameliath